The Brooklyn Murders (G.D.H. Cole)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The setting is the mansion of an impecunious aristocrat, now belonging to Sir Vernon Brooklyn, the famed theatrical-manager, who has constructed a theatre nearby. On the night of his birthday he announces a new will — and two dead bodies are discovered the next day. At first glance, it seems that each victim murdered the other — impossible. The discovery of a stick on the scene of one of the crimes points to Sir Vernon’s wastrel brother, Walter, as the murderer. Determined to prove his innocence, his estranged step-daughter and her lover set out to establish his movements. The killer’s identity is announced twenty pages later, and the rest of the book deals with attempts to prove his guilt. The detection is highly satisfying—note, however, that Wilson remains behind his desk for most of the tale. Something new is discovered in each chapter. While slow-moving, another piece is being put into place on the board. This continual unfolding is linked to a vision of a huge world, with thousands of characters, all carrying out their agendas — nearly Dickensian. A good, solid story.

Blurb (UK)

Mr. Cole is a world-famous writer on economic subjects, but this is his first novel.  He has always loved detective fiction, and always wanted to try his hand at writing detective stories.  For his first he has evolved a most ingenious and baffling plot.

Two men are found dead, not together, but apart.  Yet the clues point to the conclusion that each man killed the other—a physical impossibility.  Were all the clues false, or only some of them?  And who laid the false clues and why?  The unravelling of the mystery takes the reader into some strange company, and leads up to a dramatic ending, in which the detectives—professional and amateur—claim each a share in the glory.  Theatrical stars, philosophical beggars, and members of the demi-monde compete for the readers’ attention, and the sympathy and the honours are about equally divided between the brains of Scotland Yard and the girl and her lover who join in the chase.

Contemporary reviews

Times Literary Supplement (2 August 1923): Mr. Cole, after gaining a name for himself as a writer on economics, has turned momentarily into the more imaginative fields of detective fiction.  His adventure is commendable and, seeing that the reader can hardly be expected to associate at first sight the author of an obvious detective story with the sober-minded gentleman of the same name who writes about Labour questions, Mr. Cole is able to pull off a surprise on the very first page.  We read the word Brooklyn in the title and sigh, perhaps, at the prospect of having to endure the customary ferocity of men sent from “Police Headquarters” in the practice of the “Third Degree” and their other methods of procedure so jarring to our ideas of the behaviour proper in a policeman.  But, no, Brooklyn is not a place this time, but the name of a murdered man—he is murdered in London, and Scotland Yard deals with the matter without that transpontine strenuousness which makes every Englishman determine that he will never, cost what it may, be arrested in the United States.  Then Mr. Cole surprises the police—and his readers—again a few pages later.  The man who has quite obviously committed the first murder and is about to be arrested for it is found to have been murdered himself, possibly before the demise of his supposed victim.  As the corpses are far apart, they cannot have been involved in a vicious circle according to the method of Kilkenny.  A black sheep falls under suspicion—also called Brooklyn—and until his Odyssey is established with the aid of a map and a number of subordinate but important characters as having been genuine he, too, is in peril from the police, and is likely to be condemned on circumstantial evidence by all but the most expert readers of detective stories.

New Statesman (Raymond Mortimer, 4th August 1923, 120w): A good situation opens The Brooklyn Murders, but Mr. Cole has taken too little care to puzzle his readers about the author of the crime.  I had my suspicions from the moment the murders were described; the sixth chapter confirmed them; and the thirty-two chapters that remained did not reveal any very ingenious method or original idea.

Spectator (1st September 1923, 270w): Mr. Cole’s first excursion into fiction is a first-class detective story—a very skilful piece of work which will delight the heart of all to whom such stories appeal.

NY Times (4th May 1924, 560w): The Brooklyn Murders will no doubt have a wide circulation.  It is a workmanlike—if not particularly inspired—novel.